On being a stay-at-home feminist

equalI am a Christian feminist learning to embrace domestic work as part of my job. Right away, I can picture two courts of opinion: some women might praise me for making this choice independently, while others might scoff at my willingness to remain in the 1950s. However, this was not a decision that came easily to me. As someone who has always been ambitious and career-minded, accepting this ‘position’ is still a daily struggle.

Growing up, I remember feeling shocked when I learned that, in most of my friends’ houses, their mothers did all the cooking. I remember their equally shocked expressions when they learned that my mother absolutely could not cook – in the thirty-four years she was married to my father, the kitchen was his domain. You could say I had a “reversed” notion of gender roles growing up.

By the time I got over the notion of feminism equaling a hatred of men, bra-burning, and no shaving, I was in my mid-twenties. My involvement in a college ministry introduced me to women who were fulfilled in their roles as stay-at-home mothers, often never putting their college degrees to use in the professional world. Some believed this was the ideal calling for Christian women everywhere: the man provided financially while the woman took care of the house.

This stood starkly in contrast with the arrangement I grew up with, where both my parents worked outside the home. When my father, a trade show manager, was diagnosed with cancer, my mother’s ability to work went from being a personal choice to a necessity. When Dad was forced to retire early, it was Mom who became the breadwinner. At that point, whatever pride was lost in having the woman become the sole provider no longer mattered; having food on the table and bills paid mattered.

When life revealed plans that trumped our own, gender roles became irrelevant – not that they ever mattered much in my home to begin with. My parents’ marriage was sustained by their unique talents and abilities: Dad enjoyed cooking, and Mom did not. Mom understood which clothes could be washed together, and which ones had to be washed separately; Dad did not. There was indisputable harmony in their ability to compromise and make necessary sacrifices.

I started losing patience with the borderline patriarchal views of women and gender roles. It was hard not to be offended by the thought of someone in my church calling my family’s arrangement “sinful.” So I embraced feminism, and left complementarian Christianity behind (though not Christianity itself).

Learning to embrace feminism made it hard not to admire my mother: she was a powerhouse blend of dedication, sensitivity, and ambition, simultaneously earning a PhD while teaching graduate-level classes in nursing full time. When my father eventually succumbed to the cancer, she was not financially despondent. While not all women choose to have careers, my family’s situation illustrated the need to have professional abilities on the backburner, should the unthinkable happen.

My own marital situation is quite different. The gifts that I possess – book writing, blogging, and editing – are not exactly moneymakers in this economy. Simply put, if not for my husband’s full-time job as a physician assistant, there is no way I could provide for myself with my own earnings. I am far from the “professional powerhouse” my mother is, and I confess: I feel a slight amount of shame in that. I support the choice of other wives to stay home cooking and cleaning, but me? No way. Not my life plan.

I was “supposed” to work in publishing, maybe even do some book tours. That could still happen some day, but any rate, it’s not happening yet.

My husband’s background could not be more different than my own. I was raised by liberal, secular Jewish parents, and he was raised in a conservative, evangelical culture. He cannot recall exactly when he decided to become a Christian, since he was quite young. On the surface, it would seem that the two of us together would be a combustive mix; he had the same stereotypical views of feminism that I once did, and up until recently was convinced he couldn’t be a feminist because he is male. Despite the occasional crack about having “hippie” leanings, I am fortunate to have partnered with someone who is supportive of my endeavors, even if he doesn’t quite understand the motives behind them.

So while Josh assists in surgeries, I am working on writing from our two-bedroom apartment. In between chapter edits, I do laundry, run the dishwasher, and vacuum. This is not the situation I dreamed about, but it’s reality, and I am learning to embrace it. The fact of the matter is, these household chores need to be done at some point, and after working up to fourteen hours a day, Joshua is exhausted when he finally comes home. It’s not because my “wifely duty” demands I have dinner warming in the oven when he returns, but rather, it’s an act of love. And it really does warm my heart when he tells me, “Dinner was great, Hon. Thank you.”

I may not be following exactly in my mother’s footsteps, but following the example of my parents’ marriage, ours is also considered a partnership. It is easier for me to embrace housewifery knowing that if our roles were reversed, and I were the one making our money, Josh would support me and contribute the same way I am now. This is the arrangement that works for us, and it doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all model, nor is it set in stone. There is no telling what the future might bring, and if one day our roles might reverse. Submission, for us, is using our time and our gifts to serve the other. We have learned to be each other’s helpmates.

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15 thoughts on “On being a stay-at-home feminist

  1. Going Public says:

    I wonder why our culture is so hot-to-trot to have an opinion on other people’s business? If being a stay at home wife, who happens to cook meals (at this point in the marriage), works for both parties– then who the hell am I do object?
    Best wishes to you and your honey!

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  2. Sam the dude says:

    Beth

    I’m definitely a feminist. Jewish men have to be because :

    “Three men were sitting around bragging about how they had given their new wives duties.
    The first man had married an evangelical woman and bragged that he had told his wife she was to do all the dishes and house cleaning that needed doing at their house. He said it took a couple days, but on the third day he came home to a clean house and the dishes were all washed and put away.

    The second man had married a Mormon woman. He bragged that he had given his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, the dishes and the cooking. He told them the first day he didn’t see any results, but the next day it was better. By the third day, the house was clean, the dishes were done, and he had a huge dinner on the table.

    The third man had married a Jewish woman. He boasted that he told her that her duties were to keep the house clean, dishes washed, lawn mowed, laundry done and hot meals on the table, every day. He said the first day he didn’t see anything, the second day he didn’t see anything, but by the third day most of the swelling had gone down and he could see a little out of his left eye. ”

    Shabbat shalom and happy shavuot ! (:

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sharon says:

    You always have to do what works for you, individually and as a couple. Though we both can cook (and my husband was far better when we married), these days I do it because I am at home. The two big exceptions are making gravy and cutting cakes, things at which he is far superior to me!
    As for “manly” jobs, I’d mow grass, but he won’t let “his” grass be touched by a human-powered reel mower. Works for me! I do rake and shovel as needed, and occasionally take out the garbage.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Petal and Mortar says:

    My husband and I both work as contractors now and we juggle as much as we can so that our daughter has 24/7 coverage by a parent. It means there are Months where he is juggling shopping, school run, dinners And laundry, and months where I am. We make it work, and our daughter is happy. Compromise is good.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      Forgot to mention that while both my parents worked, I went to daycare. We didn’t have the luxury of living near any relatives. I turned out fine – that’s how I made my first best friend. As long as your daughter is happy and healthy, that’s all that matters 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Petal and Mortar says:

        My daughter was at daycare and wraparound care up until the end of last summer, which really helped socially, as she is an only child. We are expats, so we juggle 🙂 The traditional dream of big house, two cars, etc. was never for us. Accepting that fact 2 years ago has exponentially increased our happiness 🙂

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  5. Jamie Carter says:

    The difference is that as a feminist you get to find whatever works for you. Complementarians would not give you the choice. When the unthinkable happens, the solution is to marry someone else and remain in your gender role expectations. I remember the 700 Club guy telling a man to divorce his disabled wife and start over rather than lower himself to do her chores.

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    • Jo-Shu says:

      Wow, that’s disgusting. I’m glad to say that man does NOT speak for me.

      As for the whole “complementarian” thing, I’m rather torn. Basically, I’m fine with the idea of each sex complementing the other, each having something the other needs. I’m even fine with the idea of husband as head… provided that simply means he’s responsible for the well-being of his household (which doesn’t have to preclude things like being a stay-at-home-dad; there’s a lot of flexibility here). But I’m not fine with the quasi-totalitarian, manly-man leadership put forth by, say, a Mark Driscoll. Too many horror stories. Too much potential for abuse. So here I am, not really complementarian, not really anything else either… just kind of in the middle.

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      • Beth Caplin says:

        I felt that way for a long time. My biggest problem with the complementarian mindset is that it’s basically enforcing gender roles based more on culture than Scripture. There were no career options in Bible times, and marriage was likely not even a consensual choice for either party – you married who your family chose for you, and that was that. You married to advance your status or protect your family from poverty. Times have changed and the needs of a typical family are different than what they were 2000 years ago. Life is more expensive and not every man or woman is equally gifted. If every man and woman were created exactly the same, that would be different, but they are not.

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  6. Natacha Guyot says:

    If a woman wishes to be a stay-at-home wife/mother, I don’t see why her choice should be met with disdain. I think the same if a man chooses to be a stay-at-home father. What matters is what you bring up several times, about your parents or your own marriage: partnership.

    I was raised by a working father and a stay-at-home mother (who went to university which at her generation wasn’t as widespread as later, since my parents married on her 18th birthday in 1966). Yet, both my parents have always participate to do things in the house, though of course my mother did more of everyday stuff. We often joke with my mother (as due to lack of paid job I still live with my parents at 30 year old which also brings some people to look down at me) how she got married young while she couldn’t even cook a meal and that I am good in a house, whether cooking or chores or even fixing stuff (thanks to my Dad) and am single!

    I help a lot at home since I live with them in between writing. Is it what I was envisioning for myself (since I also am ambitious)? Not at all, but I do my best to work towards being financially independent at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. AthenaC says:

    In my marriage, I’m the breadwinner while my husband stays home with the kids and does the housework (or delegates it to the kids). When he gets behind on the chores, he sees it as an affront to his masculinity if I pitch in and help out around the house because he feels like it’s his job and he should be able to get it all done. So that’s been interesting.

    I finally convinced him to let me help him, not because I don’t think he can do it, but simply because I love him and I want to help.

    Liked by 1 person

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